American Psycho

American Psycho


Bret Easton Ellis

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American Psycho Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Bret Easton Ellis

Ellis was born in 1964 and grew up in a middle-class family in southern California. His parents divorced when he was a teenager, and Ellis early-on cited his father as an inspiration for the “American Psycho” himself. (He later revised these statements, staying that he actually drew more on himself for inspiration.) Ellis studied music at Bennington College in Vermont before moving towards writing and releasing his acclaimed first novel, Less Than Zero, at the age of 21. Though the initial controversy surrounding American Psycho somewhat stalled the rise of his career, the book’s later elevation to cult classic and growing academic interest has secured Ellis’s position as a significant contemporary American writer. In the years since American Psycho, he has written several other novels and screenplays, including a film adaptation of his own novel The Informers and the 2012 independent film The Canyons, which starred Lindsay Lohan. Several of his novels, including American Psycho, have been adapted into films. Throughout Ellis’s career, he has largely deflected questions regarding his sexuality, but after receiving backlash for a series of tweets in which he criticized Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign, he came out publicly as a gay man.
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Historical Context of American Psycho

The novel takes place in New York City in the late 1980s, on the tail end of the Wall Street boom of the decade. It is late in Ronald Reagan’s second term as President of the United States – an administration that was marked by immense economic growth, de-regulation of industry, the expansion of capitalism, and a crackdown on violence, crime, and drugs. The economic upswing was halted on October 19, 1987 (“Black Monday”), when markets across the globe experienced a crash. Though Bret Easton Ellis does not state a specific year (or set of years) during which American Psycho takes place, it can be assumed that the action of the novel is occurring prior to, or perhaps just on the brink of, this major crash. With the economic upturn also came an immense increase in consumption of popular culture. This decade saw the launch of MTV, which brought pop culture and music into the homes of Americans in a completely new way, as well as then-record highs in subscriptions to home cable services like HBO. These were also the final years of the Cold War, a conflict between the capitalist USA and communist USSR that had been building ever since the end of World War II. This war would end in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and a series of revolutions throughout Eastern Europe which toppled many of the world’s communist regimes.

Other Books Related to American Psycho

Bret Easton Ellis is known for featuring his characters across several different novels. Patrick Bateman first appears briefly in Ellis’s 1987 novel The Rules of Attraction, in which his brother, Sean Bateman, is a main character and narrator. Sean also appears briefly in his brother’s novel, American Psycho. In Ellis’s 1998 novel Glamorama, both Patrick Bateman and Christian Bale (the actor who played Bateman in the American Psycho film adaptation) make appearances. In his 2005 mock-memoir Lunar Park, Ellis is interrogated by detective Donald Kimball about a number of grisly murders suspected to have been committed by Bateman. Ellis is also often associated with a literary “brat pack” of 1980s authors, which includes himself, Tama Janowitz (Slaves of New York; By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee; her 2016 memoir Scream), and Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City; Story of My Life; Brightness Falls; Bright, Precious Days).
Key Facts about American Psycho
  • Full Title: American Psycho
  • When Written: the late 1980s and early 1990s
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 1991
  • Literary Period: Contemporary American Fiction, Postmodernism, Satire
  • Genre: Novel
  • Setting: New York City, the late 1980s
  • Climax: Bateman’s police chase and his confessional voicemails to his lawyer, Harold Carnes
  • Point of View: First-Person

Extra Credit for American Psycho

Take Your Money and Go. American Psycho was originally slated to be published by Simon & Schuster. However in November of 1990, the company, citing “aesthetic differences,” dropped the book over its graphic and misogynistic content. Bret Easton Ellis got to keep the money anyway. Later that year, it was picked up and published by Vintage Books.

Is He or Isn’t He?. Bret Easton Ellis revealed in a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone that he’s never made a firm decision about whether or not Patrick Bateman is truly committing the heinous crimes he describes in the novel, saying, “That was what was so interesting to me about it. You can read the book either way.”